Pope's Homily at Mass for Deceased Prelates

«Christ’s Death Is the Font of Life, for Into It God Poured All of His Love»

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 3, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today when he celebrated Mass for the cardinals and bishops who have died this year.

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Venerable Brothers,

Dear brothers and sisters!

The day after the liturgical commemoration of all the faithful departed we are gathered at the altar of the Lord to offer his Sacrifice on behalf of the cardinals and bishops who, during the course of this year, came to the end of their earthly pilgrimage. With great affection we recall the venerable members of the College of Cardinals who have left us: Urbano Navarrete, S.J., Michele Giordano, Varkey Vithayathil, C.SS.R., Giovanni Saldarini, Agustín García-Gasco Vicente, Georg Maximilian Sterzinsky, Kazimierz Świątek, Virgilio Noè, Aloysius Matthew Ambrozic, Andrzej Maria Deskur. Together with them we present to the throne of the Most High the souls of their brothers in the episcopate whom we also mourn. For each and every one we offer our prayer, animated by faith in eternal life and the mystery of the communion of saints; a faith full of hope, enlightened also by the Word of God that we have heard.

The passage taken from the prophet Hosea turns our thoughts immediately to the resurrection of Jesus, to the mystery of his death and his rising to unending life. This text of Hosea — the first half of Chapter 6 — was deeply impressed upon the heart and mind of Jesus. In fact, more than once in the Gospels he repeats Verse 6: «I want love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than holocausts.» Jesus does not cite Verse 2 but he makes it his own and he realizes it in the Paschal Mystery: «After two days he will give life back to us and on the third he will raise us up again, and we will live in his presence.» In the light of these words the Lord Jesus entered into the passion, he decisively embarked upon the road to the cross; he spoke openly to his disciples of what must happen to him in Jerusalem, and the words of the Prophet Hosea echoed in his own words: «The Son of man will be given over into the hands of men and they will kill him; but, once he is killed, after three days, he will rise again» (Mark 9:31).

The evangelist observes that the disciples «did not understand these words and they were afraid to question him» (9:32). We too, in the face of death, cannot fail to experience the sentiments and thoughts characteristic of our human condition. And we are always surprised and overcome by a God who draws so close to us that he does not even stop before the abyss of death, who rather passes through it, remaining for two days in the tomb. But exactly here the mystery of the «third day» occurs. Christ takes on our mortal flesh completely that it might be invested with the glorious power of God, by the breath of the life-giving Spirit, who transforms and regenerates it. This is the baptism of the passion (Luke 12:50), which Jesus received for us and about which St. Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans. The expression used by the Apostle — «baptized into his death» — never ceases to strike us, such is the concision with which he summarizes the dizzying mystery. Christ’s death is the font of life, for into it God poured all of his love, as in a great cataract, which makes us think of the image of Psalm 41: «Abyss calls to abyss, in the roar of your torrents; all your billows and waves have passed over me» (8). The abyss of death is filled by another abyss that is greater still, namely, the love of God, which is such that death no longer has power over Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 8:9), nor over them who, by faith and baptism, are associated with him: «If we have died with Christ,» says St. Paul, «we believe that we will also live with him» (Romans 8:8). This «living with Jesus» is the fulfillment of the hope prophesied by Hosea: «… and we will live in his presence» (6:2).

In truth, it is only in Christ that such a hope finds its real foundation. Before [Christ] it ran the risk of becoming an illusion, a symbol taken from the rhythm of the seasons: «like the autumn rain, like the spring rain» (Hosea 6:3). At the time of the Prophet Hosea the faith of the Israelites was in danger of being contaminated with the naturalistic religions of the land of Canaan, but this faith is not able to save anyone from death. But God’s intervention in the drama of human history does not obey any natural cycle; it only obeys his grace and faithfulness. The new and eternal life is the fruit of the tree of the cross, a tree that blossoms and bears fruit from the light of the sun of God. Without the cross of Christ all the energy of nature remains impotent before the negative force of sin. A beneficent force greater than that which moves the cycles of nature, a Good greater than that of creation itself: a love that proceeds from the «heart» itself of God and that, while it reveals the ultimate meaning of creation, renews it and directs it toward its original and final goal.

All of this happens in the «three days,» when the «grain of wheat» falls to the earth; it remained there for the time necessary to fill up the measure of the justice and mercy of God, and in the end produced «much fruit,» not remaining alone, but as the first born of many brothers (cf. John 12:24; Romans 8:29). Now, thanks to Christ, thanks to the work accomplished in him by the Most Holy Trinity, the images drawn from nature are no longer only symbols, illusory myths, but they speak to us of a reality. At the foundation of the hope is the will of the Father and the Son, which we heard about in the Gospel for this liturgy: «Father, I want those whom you have given me to be with me where I am» (John 17:24). And among those whom the Father gave to Jesus are also the venerable brothers for whom we offer this Eucharist: They «knew» God through Jesus, they knew his name, and love of the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit, dwelled in them (cf. John 12:25-26), opening their life to heaven, to eternity. Let us thank God for this inestimable gift. And, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, let us pray that this mystery of communion, which filled their whole existence, be fully realized in each one of them.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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